NFL Nation: Richard Dent

We spent plenty of time in recent days discussing the tough road for wide receivers making the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In the process, we ignored where the selection committee has turned its attention: pass-rushers.

Not a single receiver made the last cut to five modern-day finalists in Saturday's balloting in Indianapolis. But former Minnesota Vikings defensive end Chris Doleman became the third consecutive NFC North pass-rusher to earn enshrinement, following Richard Dent in 2011 and John Randle in 2010. Former Minnesota Vikings receiver Cris Carter once again failed to make the cut, a victim of the perceived value between pass-rushers and wide receivers.

[+] EnlargeVikings defensive end Chris Doleman
AP Photo/NFL PhotosNot only was Chris Doleman a sack specialist, but the former Vikings star is also among the NFL career leaders in fumble recoveries.
At least one pass-rusher has won election in each of the past five years. Bruce Smith and Derrick Thomas were part of the 2009 class, and Fred Dean was in the class of 2008.

Doleman's 150.5 career sacks rank third in NFL history, behind Smith (200), Reggie White (198) and Kevin Greene (160). Smith and White are both in Canton, and as of Saturday, eight of the 10 players with the highest career sack totals have or will be enshrined. Greene and the recently retired Jason Taylor (139.5) are the only players who have been left out.

(More on Greene, who didn't even make the cut from 15 finalists to 10, in the coming days.)

I don't want to take anything away from Doleman, who was a pass-rushing force for an extended period in the NFL. His two best seasons -- 21 sacks in 1989 and 15 sacks in 1998 -- came nine years apart. Doleman was part of four teams that finished the season with the NFL's top-ranked defense, recovered the seventh-most fumbles (24) in league history and was an eight-time Pro Bowler.

But with the exception of Greene, it's clear that sack totals are among the most reliable tickets to the Hall of Fame. Minutes after Doleman's election was announced, longtime Twin Cities sports analyst Patrick Reusse (also a colleague of mine at ESPN 1500) tweeted: "Apparently, it's all about sacks, since in his absolute prime, Doleman was 2nd best D-lineman on his team, behind Keith Millard."

To me, the definition of a Hall of Fame player is that he was one of the best of his era. Doleman was named to the NFL's 1990's All-Decade team, along with three other defensive ends. Was he one of the best players of that generation? He was if you accept that pass rushing is as important as the voting committee considers it.

But enough of that. I'm not going to diminish Doleman's big day by questioning his credentials. There is little doubt he was a great player for a long time in this league.

Yes, the beauty of the annual Hall of Fame announcement is that it produces as much debate afterwards as it did beforehand. Chris Doleman is a Hall of Fame player because the voting committee places premium value on his particular skill set. (Again, Greene appears to be the lone exception to that rule.)

Cris Carter isn't in the Hall of Fame because the voting committee doesn't value his position and corresponding statistics nearly as much. There are still only 21 receivers in Canton, the lowest total of any position other than tight end and kicking specialist. That's the deal -- no more and no less.

Quick hits on a travel Sunday

August, 7, 2011
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As three of our teams take Sunday off from training camp, and the Chicago Bears prepare for a night session, let's run through some NFC North hotspots in quick-hitting fashion.

But first, a programming note: I'm heading out to Bears training camp Sunday evening and will be in place for practice over the ensuing three days. That will bring CampTour'11 to within one stop of completion. The tentative plan is to visit the Detroit Lions during the week of Aug. 14, but I'll confirm that with you as soon as I know for sure myself. Onward. ...

Item: The Chicago Bears appear set to replace Johnny Knox in their starting lineup with newly signed veteran Roy Williams, reports Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune.
Comment: Knox was the Bears' leading receiver by yardage last season, but there was always an undercurrent of doubt about his comfort level in the offense. Williams played in the same scheme while in Detroit, but he is six seasons removed from a 1,000-yard performance. Is it reasonable to expect him to be more productive in 2011 than Knox was last season?

Item: Richard Dent's Hall of Fame acceptance speech was 2,387 words.
Comment: Compared to Shannon Sharpe's speech, Dent's went by in a blink of an eye. Sharpe's speech went 3,768 words.

Item: The Lions' offensive line is in rough shape, as Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com notes.
Comment: Left tackle Jeff Backus hasn't practiced because of a torn pectoral muscle. Right tackle Gosder Cherilus has missed most of the past week because of soreness in his surgically repaired knee. Backup Jason Fox is sidelined by a foot injury. The Lions still appear confident that Backus will be ready to start the regular season, but the Cherilus injury is troublesome and there is no denying the Lions are missing some valuable chemistry-building time this summer.

Item: The Lions moved new linebacker Stephen Tulloch to the middle position during Saturday's practice.
Comment: There is every reason to believe Tulloch will remain there, with DeAndre Levy at one outside position and Justin Durant at the other. It's an unquestioned upgrade.

Item: The Green Bay Packers' Family Night practice was canceled after 20 plays because of weather.
Comment: That's 20 more plays than the Bears ran at their Family Night affair on Friday. This was the only practice of the entire summer that was exposed to weather; all other workouts can be moved indoors if needed. It's the third time in four years that Family Night has been cut short or canceled, notes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.

Item: Packers quarterback Matt Flynn could increase his value as a 2012 free agent with a strong preseason performance, writes Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
Comment: That's one reason I think coach Mike McCarthy really wants to keep No. 3 quarterback Graham Harrell on his roster this season. Flynn could leave the Packers without a proven backup if he signs elsewhere next year.

Item: The Minnesota Vikings had more fans at their Family Night (9,145) than ever before.
Comment: Did they think Brett Favre would finally make a training camp appearance?

Richard Dent HOF enshrinement speech

August, 6, 2011
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Richard DentJason Miller/Getty ImagesFour-time Pro Bowl defensive end Richard Dent was a Super Bowl MVP for the Bears.
Hall of Fame enshrinement speech for defensive end Richard Dent, who starred for the Bears from 1983-93. He also played for the 49ers, Colts and Eagles.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. You know, I grew up in a time where a man always said, I have a dream, and that man was Martin Luther King. And as a kid growing up at that time listening to him all I could do is dream. I wanted to be someone special that my mother and my father and my family looked up to. I wanted to be someone that, you know, I enjoyed playing a game, but then again I enjoyed working and just trying to take care of myself.

When you've got seven brothers and one sister and you're number six out of nine, there's not much left over for you. When you ask for food, my dad would tell you a burger's only going to last for a second. You don't need anything. I don't have a dollar for you.

Richard Dent went to work and tried to find himself. It was tough. Not in my wildest dream that I thought I'd be here. When you have dreams, it's very tough to say that you can do everything by yourself. It's all about other people. None of us can get anywhere by ourselves.

I had a friend of mine by the name of Scott Dean who gave up the band to help me to stay in school and helped me to pursue my dream. I had a young lady by the name of Ms. Sandy Payton. Ms. Payton and I used to hang out in her store when I was eight years old, and she decided to give me a job because she knew that I was taking things. It was a clothing store, so she taught me a lot about business, so she gave me something to look forward to.

There was another lady by the name of Ms. Mary Knight. Ms. Knight's about 93 years old. Ms. Knight, you know, you took care of my mother. My mother and I and took care of people, raised people, raised people in our community, and I commend you so much, Ms. Knight, I appreciate your love. I appreciate you coming here to celebrate this with us.

There is, also a guy by the name of William Lester that told my mother, look, I'm going to try to do something for him. Because I know he would want to leave the state of Georgia, because wasn't taking the place of Georgia.

When I grew up I used to watch Claude Humphrey, and I used to watch Tommy Nobis, and Hank Aaron, and Mohamed Ali, so as a kid, I loved Claude Humphrey and didn't know I was going to go to Tennessee State. I took a little piece of Claude, and little piece of Mohammed Ali and said I am going to raise some hell. So from there, William Lester, like coach said, he dropped me off. Tennessee State wanted three other friends of mine from Murphy High School. Murphy High School guys would you stand up? Chuck, I appreciate you guys. You know, Coach Lester dropped me off and you know we finished school August 6. I was at Tennessee State August 8, and before you know it, I was working at Sunbeam Bread August 9th and in summer school.

But, you know, that was important to me. It was important to me that William Lester and I moved out of the neighborhood, And Coach Lester gave me a ride for two years in a row. Between him and his wife, they gave me a ride and allowed me to walk about a mile home, but yet I didn't want to transfer. I came in the game late. And William Lester and his family, you know, he died a couple years ago.

We had a chance to do this at the Georgia Hall of Fame, and I just want to say thank you because if it weren't for him, I couldn't be here today. I wouldn't be in Chicago, and I'd have never gotten to Tennessee. So thank you there.

Also, the first guy out of Atlanta, Georgia, out of Atlanta public school for the Hall of Fame, the first player out of the state, you know, I just couldn't believe it. What, 100 something years that one could do such a thing, but that's what took place.

So my Tennessee State people, are you out there? I love you all, because my Tennessee State people shaped me, you know, loved me. I appreciate the band coming out and it was nothing like going to big blue. Big Blue was awesome.

All the guys that I played with there, I appreciate you guys coming out. Aron Ford, Joe Adams, John Smith, and if you don't mind, I would love for you guys to reach on out and give my coach, give your coach, you might have been a student or you might have been any alumni, I'd love for everybody to just stand and give Coach Gilliam a hand for all that he's done in the last 35 to 40 years. A man that had a record of 254 wins, 93 ties, 15 losses, sent over 147 guys to the pros, had a 1948 undefeated team in Indiana, and '45. First black quarterback, first black backfield.

Let me tell you, you don't meet this kind of person too often. I used to hate this person, but I learned to love him (Coach Gilliam). You know what I mean? I learned to love him because he shaped me and he made things work for me. Coach, thank you, Coach. Thank you, thank you.

Dr. Frederick Humphries, our former president, I'd like to say hello to you, doc. Thank you for coming out. Paula, our new president, thank you for bringing the band out. I know it cost you a lot. We are the first, and well, I should say I am the first for Tennessee State, and I really appreciate your love and I appreciate you coming out and bringing the kids out.

Craig Gilliam is coach's son, and Craig is first guy that taught me how to breakdown films. Taught me how to, you know, sink in on ballplayers. Craig, I'd like to say thanks, and I appreciate your love. Thank you a lot, Craig. Thank you a lot, baby.

There are two other guys that I should say I stand on your shoulders, and that's Claude Humphrey and "Too Tall" Jones. I think "Too Tall" is out here somewhere. "Too Tall" and Mr. Humphries, Claude Humphrey I want to say thank you because there wouldn't be no me without you.

I used to get in a little trouble in college back in the day. And there was a gentleman by the name of Dean Murrell. Dean Murrell and Ms. Murrell were husband and wife, and they were the Dean of the school.
Ms. Murrell, I want to say thank you. Please stand, thank you, Ms. Murrell. Thank you for your time, for Dean who is not here anymore, but thank you.

Also I'd like to say thanks to some guys that I started the game with, Jim Osborne and Emery Moorehead, and Neil Anderson, Al Fontenot. And I'd like to say thanks I like that '85 team out there. I know I've got that Chicago '85 team. Where you at? Please give me a little love. There they are. There they are, thank you. Derek Benson, Tyrone Keys, Mike Richardson, Emery Moorehead, Dan Hampton, Steve McMichael, love you, Steve. Steve, I hope to see you up here some time. You were the heart of the defense, and you made it work for us.

Most important of all, it's a guy by the name of Jimbo Covert that I had to lineup and practice against day in and day out. He made the game easy for me, because I knew I wasn't going to face a guy like him in the game. But me and Jimbo, we definitely pushed each other to make each other the best. Walter was great for a long time. He led rushers for a long time. Jimbo I look forward to seeing you on the stage. I love you brother, thank you.
The guy that found me was a guy by the name of Bill Tobin. I was so skinny when I came in the league. I was 228 pounds. I had bad teeth and I didn't know what was going to take place. But, Bill, appreciate your love, Bill. Please stand. Thank you. Yeah, I know you wanted me to go higher, I went lower, but that's all right. We're here.

Dale Haupt was our defensive line coach. Coach Haupt, thank you for coming and your family. Appreciate you. That's Mr. Drill Sargeant, guys, Mr. Drill Sargeant.

John Levra, Coach Levra thank you for coming, too. Thank you a lot.

Also, you know, I love to thank the Chicago fans and the people in Chicago. You know, it's such a great place to play. It's where the game started. There's not a better place to play. It means so much to me to get a chance to play there where a guy like Walter Payton, and a guy like Dick Butkus, and a broad shoulder like the city of Chicago. It was a pleasure to get a chance to entertain them on Sunday to allow us to come into their home and have so much fun.

Thank the 49ers and the Eagles and the Colts also for giving me a chance to come and play with those folks.
My dad, dad, I know you're sitting there. Thank you, Dad, because you taught me some things about hard work. You know, I used to bump a lot of clothes with you and click a lot of clocks, and I'm just glad that you didn't allow me to go to jail with you that day either when we went fishing and you didn't have a license anymore. The guy told you to follow him, and we went another route. Thank you, Dad, thank you, because I was seven and my brother was six. Who knows what was going to happen in Covington, Georgia, if you know Covington, Georgia, you know.

Obviously, my mother was my heart. And I tell you, I couldn't be here without her. Everybody else were daddy's boys, I was mama's boy. I'm so thankful to be here. I wish my mother was here, but obviously not. My sister, Brenda, my brother Naji, and Johnny, and Steve, you know, thank you guys because you guys had that band back in the day.

In the '60s, if you had a lot of kids, everybody wanted to be the next Michael Jackson group, and hell, it didn't happen, but I went and cut some grass.

Brothers, thank you, guys. Thank you over there, my brothers. Thank you. Thank you a lot.
You know, my two daughters, Mary, Sarah, I love you to death. My son, R.J., you guys got this legacy, and I look forward to you guys to take it on with the Make a Dent Foundation. Angie Sandborg who has been my mother in Chicago, thank you, Angie, for helping me out, because nobody can do anything alone. You have to have some type of support mechanism.

When I tell kids don't look at me as a player. If you're going to think of me, you look at Mr. Dent, you take the first letter in my first name is dreaming, you must dream. You must dream and you must be dedicated to proceed with anything in life. Okay, when you dream, you have to get up and do something about it.

The letter E, you have to be educated to figure out what to do, how to do and when to do. The letter N, you represent your family, your name, your team, where you came from, whoever. And the letter T is, you know, you're going to get knocked down one day, folks.

But you got to get back up and you've got to try again. These challenges were tough for me here today. I don't have a lot of time to tell you how long it took to get me here. But I took those four letters and I was destined to make something of myself, of my community, and my friends, and my loved ones, everybody to appreciate.

I'd like to thanks to some people that are not here anymore that are important to my life also. Obviously my mother, Dwayne Roberts, Brian Howard, a buddy of mine named Bruce Walker who taught me the pass rush to move in Tennessee State. Steve Moore who played against in the Super Bowl. We were both rookies coming out of it. And obviously a guy named Fred Washington who was just at the Bears for a short time who I became to love.

A guy like Todd Bell who both of us saw ourselves the same. Todd was a great man. Obviously, the late Dave Duerson and the late Drew Hill.

But the guy who I tried to pattern myself on was the late great Walter Payton. Walter was the best of all. I loved watching this man go to work. Also I'd like to congratulate the class of 2011. Congratulations, brothers. I look forward to being in this house.

As a kid, you look at some of these guys left to right, I've watched these guys as a little one and never thought everything in sports I'd dream and I'd seen myself accomplish, but I never thought about being in the Hall of Fame. This kid I had a chance to meet one time, and he told me, hey, brother, keep doing what you're doing, you'll get there one day. The leader just started.

Also, I'd like to thank all the people at the Hall of Fame for the festivities, and putting this on. Like I told my friends last night, it's time to party. It's time to drop it like it's hot.

I have to thank my buddy, M.J., my buddy at Luke Capital, FirstEnergy and First Communications and the Borris family for putting this party on the for us. Thank you all, love you all, see you down the road.
Former Chicago Bears defensive end Richard Dent will be inducted Saturday into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And over at ESPNChicago.com, Melissa Isaacson offers a great read on how Dent rose from a skinny eighth-round draft choice to one of the best pass rushers in NFL history.

[+] EnlargeRichard Dent
Getty ImagesRichard Dent went from an eighth-round pick to Hall of Famer, a feat not often repeated.
The Bears had a second-round grade on Dent, but he was available at the No. 203 overall position in 1983 mostly because he weighed about 215 pounds. He put on another 40 pounds after the Bears helped him identify some dental issues, and he was off to the races.

Isaacson’s piece got me wondering: How rare is it for an eighth-round draft choice to make it to the Hall of Fame?

Thanks to the Pro Football Hall of Fame website, we can pass along the answer. Dent will be the lowest-drafted player enshrined whose career began after the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.

(Over that time period, there have been three undrafted players elected: Jim Langer, Warren Moon and John Randle.)

Obviously, highly-drafted players are more likely to get extended opportunities to play. But more than anything, I think this information shows that teams get the draft right more often than we might be willing to give them credit for. Below is the breakdown of where the NFL’s post-merger Hall of Famers were drafted:

  • First round: 43 players
  • Second round: 11
  • Third round: 5
  • Fourth round: 3
  • Fifth round: 1
  • Sixth round: 0
  • Seventh round: 1
  • Eighth round: 1
  • Ninth-20th: 0
  • Undrafted: 3

(A complete list of every Hall of Fame player’s draft status can be found here. It should be noted that one of Dent's 2011 classmates, linebacker Chris Hanburger, was drafted in the 18th round in 1965 -- five years before the merger.)

With the draft now limited to seven rounds, I think we can safely say Dent will be the last eighth-round pick to be enshrined to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
We've been casting a skeptical eye since last week on the possibility of the Chicago Bears actually playing their Aug. 7 preseason opener in the annual Hall of Fame game. Wednesday, the NFL appeared ready to relent.

League executive vice president Jeff Pash told reporters that he still hopes the game will be played but admitted: "It's getting tight. It's getting pretty tight. It would be pretty challenging so that is one of the things we'll have to focus on."

It would be cool for the Bears to play in that game a day after defensive end Richard Dent's enshrinement ceremony. But the logistics just don't seem worth the trouble. The Bears have already delayed the start of their training camp by four days, meaning the earliest they could report to Olivet Nazarene University is Tuesday. In reality, continuing uncertainty about final ratification of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) makes it impossible to predict when the Bears might get to camp.

Bears tailback Matt Forte and placekicker Robbie Gould have both expressed concern about playing in a preseason game with less than two weeks of training camp to prepare. As each day goes by, the odds increase that the Hall of Fame game will be canceled and the Bears will report to camp along with the rest of the league around Aug. 1. Stay tuned.
Jared Allen and Julius PeppersUS PresswireWill Canton make room for predominant pass-rushers Jared Allen and Julius Peppers?
Another in a series on NFC North players whose career trajectory puts them on a path to consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

NFL teams value pass rushing more than any skill outside of quarterbacking, and here in the NFC North we have two of the best of this generation. Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers (89 career sacks) and Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen (83) have outright dominated many games during their careers. But is either on track for future enshrinement in Canton, Ohio?

My short answer: It could go either way.

Sacks didn't become an official statistic until 1982. In reviewing how Hall of Fame voters have judged pass-rushers since then, a few tenets seem clear:

  1. Sack totals alone, no matter how high, don't guarantee enshrinement. Otherwise, linebacker Kevin Greene (currently a Green Bay Packers assistant coach) and defensive end Chris Doleman would have been elected a long time ago. Greene has 160 career sacks, the third-most in NFL history. Doleman's 150.5 rank No. 5. They are two of 25 players with 100 or more career sacks. Eight of those 25 are in the Hall of Fame.
  2. The first chart is a list of the eight Hall of Fame defensive linemen and linebackers whose careers took place during the sack era. I included Oakland Raiders defensive lineman Howie Long and New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor, whose careers began in 1981, and eliminated Bears linebacker Mike Singletary because pass rushing wasn't much of a factor in his enshrinement. All but Long had at least 100 sacks. So while 100-plus sacks doesn't guarantee enshrinement, it's almost always a prerequisite. There is every reason to believe that Peppers, who is 31, and Allen (29) can and will pass that milestone.
  3. Voters clearly perform a subjective judgment to determine which players with high sack totals deserve enshrinement. Generally speaking, players who seem classified as "pure" pass-rushers, including Greene and Doleman, face a higher bar than those who were more generally regarded as "havoc-wreakers." Examples: Long, Andre Tippett, Lawrence Taylor, Rickey Jackson and John Randle.

Given their career arcs, both Peppers and Allen might have to justify a "havoc-wreaker" enshrinement. They've got good chances to break the 100-sack barrier, but how much further will they go? Peppers could reach Randle-Taylor-Richard Dent territory by averaging 10 sacks a year for the next five seasons. I would say that 50 sacks between the ages of 31 and 36 represents the high end of what Peppers might achieve.

Allen is two years younger, and a similar 50-sack run over the next five years could put him in the same territory by 34. That's a reasonable projection, but I wonder if voters will discard Allen into the "pure pass-rusher" category that currently houses Greene, Doleman, Leslie O'Neal (137.5 career sacks), Simeon Rice (122) and Clyde Simmons (121.5).

One gauge to consider is ESPN.com's positional power rankings, which I recognize simply represents the thoughts of eight slappy bloggers. (But remember, Hall of Fame election is determined by 44 other slappy writers and broadcasters.) Allen was rated as the No. 4 pass-rusher but didn't receive a single vote for best defensive player.

For what it's worth, Peppers ranked No. 8 on the overall defensive player list. And I found it interesting last week that when asked to name the NFL's best player at the moment, Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher quickly responded: "Peppers."

In an admittedly subjective question, I ask: If Peppers and Allen finish their careers with similar sack totals, who is more likely to be elected to the Hall of Fame? I'm going to guess Peppers, barring a dramatic career arc adjustment for either player.

Comparing current players to Hall of Famers is only part of the discussion, however. As we noted in our post on Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, candidates must also be compared to their contemporaries. In theory, only those who dominated their respective eras should be enshrined.

Our next two charts addresses that topic.

Since he entered the league in 2002, Peppers ranks third in sacks. Allen, meanwhile, has more sacks than any NFL player since he was drafted in 2004.

So let's say Peppers and Allen finish their careers in the 130-140 sack range. Both will have been among the most productive pass-rushers of their time, but they'll also be "competing" with a number of contemporaries with similar credentials. We of course hope that all deserving players eventually get in, but the definition of "deserving" can be relative.

To that end, it should be noted that defensive end Michael Strahan (141.5 sacks) would seem relatively assured of enshrinement. End/linebacker Jason Taylor (132.5) and Dwight Freeney (94) will also be considered.

Both Peppers and Allen have potential career spans long enough to settle this debate definitively on their own. But as it stands now, with Peppers entering his 10th season and Allen his eighth, we can say they've done enough to enter the Hall of Fame conversation. Both have more work to do, and it needs to be at the same standard they've set thus far.

Earlier: Rodgers has put himself in on the path toward Canton.

Rex Ryan still simmers over Duerson claim

March, 22, 2011
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NEW ORLEANS -- Rex Ryan didn't want to dignify the accusation with a reaction.

[+] EnlargeDave Duerson
AP Photo File PhotoThree Notre Dame football players, including Dave Duerson, center, at Jackson Square on Saturday, Dec. 27, 1980, in New Orleans.
The passionate New York Jets head coach couldn't help himself when asked about last month's allegation that his father, Buddy Ryan, called late Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson the N-word.

"Quite honestly ..." Ryan said before stopping himself and then asking a Jets media relations official, "Can I be harsh?"

As long as he kept it clean, Ryan was instructed.

"As long as it's clean, yeah," Ryan muttered. "I thought it was ridiculous."

In a different setting, Ryan probably would have chosen an angrier adjective or two. But in a ballroom at the opulent Roosevent Hotel and surrounded by reporters and his peers Tuesday morning at a coaches' media breakfast, Ryan restrained himself.

"There isn't a prejudiced bone in our bodies or my dad's body," Ryan said, including twin brother and Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. "That's why I know it's crazy."

The incendiary accusation came to light after Duerson's death. He committed suicide Feb. 17 at his Florida home. Duerson gave an interview to author Rob Trucks in November. Excerpts appeared on Deadspin.com.
"In the NFL, I was ostracized from Day 1 -- not by my teammates, but by my defensive coordinator. I was drafted by the Bears in 1983. My first day walking into Halas Hall, I met Buddy Ryan. He knew I'd gone to Notre Dame and asked me if I was one of those doctors or lawyers. I said, 'Yes, sir.' He said, 'Well, you won't be here too long because I don't like smart n------.'

[+] EnlargeBuddy Ryan
Mike Powell/Getty ImagesBuddy Ryan of the Bears gets carried off the field by defensive lineman Richard Dent, 95, and linebacker Otis Wilson, 55, after their Super Bowl win in 1985.
"I worked for Buddy for three years, and there was not a day that he did not remind me that I was not his draft pick, that he did not want me there. It was not motivational at all. The guy simply hated my guts, without question."

Duerson was among the stars of Buddy Ryan's famed 46 defense. When the clock hit 0:00 on their Super Bowl XX victory here in New Orleans, defensive end Richard Dent and linebacker Otis Wilson -- both black -- hoisted Buddy Ryan on their shoulders.

Many of Buddy Ryan's former players also have publicly defended him against the Duerson accusation.

"I've been around my dad a long time," Rex Ryan said, "and I never heard every conversation he ever had in his life, but I never heard him ever use language like that, a word like that. My dad loves his players, respected his players.

"I thought it was absurd. And there's no way in hell that happened. That's my opinion. No way in hell that happened. For someone to make a comment like that ... and I don't know if Dave made them or somebody else made them or whatever. [Duerson] might have made them, but my dad never did."

Rex Ryan pointed out that his father, in his first head coaching job with the Philadelphia Eagles, didn't hesitate to start Randall Cunningham. Rob Ryan coached five years at historically black Tennessee State. Both Rex and Rob Ryan were college assistants under black head coaches.

As he rattled off each of those facts, he jabbed his finger on the table for emphasis.

"It was absolutely ridiculous. For my dad, my twin brother, myself ... I mean, give me a break," Rex Ryan said.

"There's no way in hell it's a stain on his career because anybody that knows my dad knows the kind of person he is. My dad is a great person. Maybe there's a different agenda there."

A tough day for the Bears

February, 18, 2011
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A jarring sight awaited if you happened to land on the home page of the Chicago Bears’ website Friday. At the far right was a video of former defensive end Richard Dent discussing his recent election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

On the left was the news that former safety Dave Duerson had been found dead at age 50. The cause of Duerson’s death has not been reported.

The Bears drafted Dent and Duerson in 1983. They were teammates for seven years, including in 1985 when the Bears won Super Bowl XX. One is heading toward the greatest personal achievement an NFL player can reach. The other suffered a shocking, untimely and deeply-felt death.

Duerson was one of the brains behind the Bears’ 46 defense and, through his work with Notre Dame and the NFL Players Association, remained a part of the Chicago sports fabric after retiring. His death brought a harsh conclusion to what has been an extended 25-year celebration of the 1985 team. Our thoughts go out to his ex-wife, Alicia, and his four children.

Cris Carter again falls short

February, 5, 2011
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DALLAS -- I wish I had an explanation for what many of you are already asking: What is keeping former Minnesota Vikings receiver Cris Carter out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

When Carter retired in 2002, he ranked second on the NFL's all-time list of receptions (1,101) and touchdowns (130). He was one of the top receivers of his generation, but on Saturday he missed the selection committee's first cut for the second consecutive year. Former Buffalo Bills receiver Andre Reed made the first cut but was dropped after the second.

As we've noted before, Carter has several factors working against him that are out of his control.

First, the receiver position is not as valued as some others. Only 21 are currently enshrined.

Second, Carter seems to have been caught in a glut of receivers each year. Former Oakland Raiders receiver Tim Brown was also a finalist this season, and Sports Illustrated's Peter King -- who is also a voter -- tweeted: "My sense is Reed, Carter, Brown canceling each other out. A shame, but I can tell you it's an honest disagreement by voters."

If that's the case, then it should just be a matter of time for Carter -- just as it was for former Chicago Bears defensive end Richard Dent, who finally got his call Saturday.

Indeed, Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com -- another voter -- tweeted: "My guess? All 10 of the "snubbed" candidates from this season will be in the HOF in the next three years."

Richard Dent finally gets his due

February, 5, 2011
2/05/11
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DALLAS -- Saturday was old hat for Richard Dent. For six of the past seven years, he sat idle while the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee passed on his candidacy. He passed through the expected phases of disappointment: From anger to frustration to confusion to tranquility.

[+] EnlargeRichard Dent
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesOver 13 years, Richard Dent recorded 137.5 sacks and forced 37 fumbles.
It seemed hard to believe that any man of Dent's generational impact would be excluded indefinitely from the game's highest individual honor. So Dent jetted off to Las Vegas for a weekend of golf. What the heck? If it happened this year, great. If not, well, Vegas is nice this time of year.

Dent's patience was rewarded Saturday when he finally received his invitation. Coincidentally, it came 25 years after he was named the MVP of Super Bowl XX.

"I'm just so thankful," Dent said. "My daughter Mary called me and everything was happening just at that time, and I kind of went into tears. ... It's very appreciated and I'm very happy. It's been a long time coming."

Indeed, Dent was one of the most dangerous pass rushers of his era, beginning with the Chicago Bears in 1983 and finishing with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1997. He was part of two Super Bowl champions, retiring with the NFL's third-highest sack total (137.5) and the second-most forced fumbles by a defensive lineman (37) at the time.

Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young, who worked as part of the NFL Network crew that announced Saturday's elections, suggested Dent transformed the game as one of the first ultra-athletic defensive ends who were just as comfortable rushing the passer as they were reaching up for an interception or poking the ball loose from the quarterback.

"I got a sense of that from watching [former New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor]," Dent said. "He was the only other guy that was quick enough that he could decide whether to hit the guy or take the ball from him. If you're in it for yourself, you just care about sacks. But I kind of thought like him, that taking the ball away was the best thing because it got you off the field and getting turnovers."

In his most memorable game, Dent forced two fumbles and was credited with 1.5 sacks in the Bears' 46-10 Super Bowl XX victory over the New England Patriots. He is one of three defensive linemen in history to win MVP honors in the Super Bowl.

"You can get sacks," he said, "but if you want to take your game to the next level, it's all about turnovers."

Hall voters first tapped several other pass rushers from Dent's era, including Fred Dean, Bruce Smith and John Randle. The voting committee works in mysterious ways, but there was little doubt it would eventually happen for Dent. This was his year.

Note: Dent is the 27th Bears players to be elected to the Hall of Fame, the highest number among NFL franchises.

Canton must wait for Reed and Martin

February, 5, 2011
2/05/11
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Andre Reed and Curtis Martin received bad news about their bids to get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Reed and Martin were among the 15 finalists for induction, but neither AFC East star made the cut Saturday when the next induction class was determined.

[+] EnlargeAndre Reed
US PresswireAndre Reed has been a finalist five times but the former Buffalo receiver will have to wait to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
The 2011 class includes running back Marshall Faulk, tight end Shannon Sharpe, defensive end Richard Dent cornerback Deion Sanders and NFL Films patriarch Ed Sabol. Senior nominees headed to Canton are linebackers Chris Hanburger and Les Richter.

Reed has been a finalist five times. For the second year in a row, the Buffalo Bills legend finished ahead of Cris Carter and Tim Brown in the selection process, which pares down the group of finalists from 15 to 10. Reed made the top 10, while Carter and Brown did not.

But Reed didn't make the next cut to five. That's the group the selection committee makes a final yea or nay vote on, with 80 percent agreement required for induction. The committee approved all five.

Reed will have to wait to join his former teammates already honored in Canton: quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas, receiver James Lofton, defensive end Bruce Smith and head coach Marv Levy.

Reed made 951 catches for 13,198 yards and 87 touchdowns. He's known as one of the best yards-after-catch receivers in NFL history, perhaps second to only Jerry Rice, and among the grittiest over-the-middle threats.

Reed was a seven-time Pro Bowler. He posted 13 seasons with at least 50 receptions, tied for second all-time. He's tied for third in postseason history with five 100-yard games. His 85 postseason receptions rank third.

Martin, a star running back with the New England Patriots and New York Jets, was on the ballot for the first time. His former coach, Bill Parcells, advocated Martin be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Martin ranks fourth in all-time rushing yardage behind Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders, a pretty good crew -- if you're into that kind of thing.

Martin rushed for 14,101 yards and scored an even 100 touchdowns, 90 on the ground and 10 more off catches. He ran for 1,000 yards in 10 straight seasons, the second-longest streak in league history. Martin was the 1995 offensive rookie of the year and made five Pro Bowl rosters.

Carter was another Hall of Fame finalist with an AFC East connection, albeit barely. Carter finished his career with the Miami Dolphins, catching eight passes over five games in 2002. His 130th and final touchdown was with Miami.

That gave every AFC East club a link to Saturday's selection process.
[+] EnlargeJerome Bettis
Allen Kee/NFL/Getty ImagesDuring his 13-year career Jerome Bettis topped 1,000 yards a season eight times.
The AFC North will not have a representative in the 2011 Hall of Fame class. The division's two finalists -- Jerome Bettis and Dermontti Dawson -- failed to make the cut Saturday.

Bettis was one of the league's great running backs, spending most of his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers and rushing for 13,662 yards and 91 touchdowns. He did not make it beyond the cut of 15 players. Dawson was a stalwart center for Pittsburgh for 13 seasons, but failed to make it to the final five.

I knew it would be tough going for both players this year as Deion Sanders and Marshall Faulk were first-ballot locks, leaving just three slots for 13 great players. But the time element makes the situation for Bettis and Dawson different.

I agree with the committee that Bettis is not a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But I think Bettis has a solid chance to get in eventually. He's fifth on the NFL's all-time leading rusher list, a six-time Pro Bowler and has a Super Bowl ring. But Bettis has to wait his turn like many outstanding players before him.

A seven-time Pro Bowler, Dawson has been on the ballot since 2005 and year after year he's left on the outside looking in. It appears his candidacy has improved this year. But several quality first-ballot candidates will continue coming down the pike and not leave many slots available for Dawson.

This year's class includes Sanders, Faulk, defensive end Richard Dent, tight end Shannon Sharpe and Ed Sabol of NFL Films. Linebackers Chris Hanburger and Les Richter made it as senior nominees. Sharpe played two seasons with the Ravens but was primarily known as a Denver Bronco.

Quick take: Hall of Fame class of 2011

February, 5, 2011
2/05/11
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Stephen Perry Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireHall of Fame president Stephen Perry announces this year's 10 finalists for the class of 2011.
DALLAS -- Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors elected Marshall Faulk, Deion Sanders, Richard Dent, Shannon Sharpe and NFL Films founder Ed Sabol to the class of 2011.

Les Richter and Chris Hanburger earned enshrinement as seniors candidates.

I was one of the voters. We spent more than seven hours discussing the 15 modern-era candidates and two seniors committee candidates.

Some candidates with very strong credentials missed the cut. That is not a travesty. It's the process. There were only five spots for 15 players, forcing 10 strong candidates to wait another year.

I presented the case for Cortez Kennedy. He made the final 10 for a second year in a row, keeping him firmly in the mix for the future.

With that, let's take a closer look at the candidates with ties to teams currently aligned in the NFC West:

Marshall Faulk

Position: RB

NFC West team: St. Louis Rams

The verdict: Yes

Quick take: Voters spent considerable time laying out the case for Faulk even though there seemed to be little doubt about his status as a likely first-ballot Hall of Famer. Faulk had no significant weaknesses. He could run for speed or power. He could catch the ball. He was a tenacious blocker. He could line up as a true wide receiver (former teammate D'Marco Farr told me he once saw Faulk beat a cornerback on a post route. What would a cornerback be doing covering a running back? That's the point. Faulk could do it all, and he did it all for historically great offenses that competed for championships and won one. Case closed.


Richard Dent

Position: DE

NFC West team: San Francisco 49ers

The verdict: Yes

Quick take: Dent had been a finalist seven times and among the final 10 five times. This was his time, although it's always tough to know when that time will come. Dent was a dominant pass-rusher and very strong against the run. He put up the necessary sack numbers to get voters' attention, but his status as an elite all-around end offset criticisms that he earned Pro Bowl honors only four times. Dent had 137.5 career sacks, including 34.5 sacks over a two-year period early in his career.


Deion Sanders

Position: CB

NFC West team: 49ers

The verdict: Yes

Quick take: The most dominant cover cornerback of his generation, and perhaps all time, offered more than just stellar play in the secondary. Sanders averaged more than 15 yards every time he got his hands on the football. He scored five different ways during the regular season. Sanders made his only season with the 49ers a memorable one, helping San Francisco win the Super Bowl after the 1994 season.


Les Richter

Position: LB

NFC West team: Los Angeles Rams

The verdict: Yes, as seniors candidate

Quick take: Richter went to eight consecutive Pro Bowls as a hard-hitting, allegedly dirty enforcer type beginning in 1952. He also played center and kicker. Richter passed away last summer.


Cortez Kennedy

Position: DT

NFC West team: Seattle Seahawks

The verdict: Made the final 10, but not the final five

Quick take: Kennedy has made the final 10 two years in a row. That means he commands respect in the room. Kennedy was among the players potentially losing out when selectors voted in a non-player in NFL Films founder Ed Sabol. The fact that this was Dent's year also might have had an impact on Kennedy. They played different positions on the line, but both were defensive linemen. Voters went with only one this time.


Charles Haley

Position: OLB

NFC West team: 49ers

The verdict: Did not make the final 10

Quick take: Dent was the preferred pass-rusher this year. Haley played a pivotal role in helping the 49ers and Dallas Cowboys win championships. He affected the rivalry between the teams. Haley won five Super Bowl titles while with the 49ers and Cowboys.


Jerome Bettis

Position: RB

NFC West team: Rams

The verdict: Did not make the final 10

Quick take: "The Bus" departed St. Louis following three productive seasons when the Rams traded him to Pittsburgh after using a first-round draft choice for Lawrence Phillips. Consider it one of the more ill-fated moves in Rams history. This was Bettis' first year of eligibility. His size-speed-moves ratio sets him apart from just about every back in NFL history. Faulk's enshrinement might have made it tougher to accommodate another running back, particularly with Curtis Martin also on the ballot.


Chris Doleman

Position: DE

NFC West team: 49ers

The verdict: Did not make the final 10

Quick take: Doleman enjoyed most of his success with the Minnesota Vikings, but he had 38 sacks in three seasons with the 49ers from 1996-98. Doleman had 150.5 career sacks and he had a knack for forcing fumbles. Dent was the defensive end to break through this year. Doleman was a finalist for the first time. He has a shot in the future.

Thoughts following Hall of Fame voting

February, 5, 2011
2/05/11
6:53
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DALLAS -- Pro Football Hall of Fame voting is finished for another year.

Up next: formal announcement during an NFL Network broadcast beginning at 7 p.m. ET.

Officials from the Pro Football Hall of Fame swore selectors to secrecy after we learned which candidates emerged from two rounds of reductions.

We all know which candidates survived the cut, but we do not know which ones will receive the necessary 80 percent approval on a yes-no vote (often a formality).

Marshall Faulk, Cortez Kennedy, Charles Haley, Richard Dent, Deion Sanders, Jerome Bettis, Chris Doleman and seniors candidate Les Richter were candidates with ties to teams currently aligned in the NFC West. No more than five modern candidates and two seniors candidates can qualify for enshrinement in any one year.
FORT WORTH, Texas -- A quick look at the Pro Football Hall of Fame candidates with ties to teams currently aligned in the NFC West:
  • Marshall Faulk, running back. Faulk began his career with Indianapolis before becoming the NFL's offensive player of the year three times in a row for the St. Louis Rams beginning in 1999.
  • Cortez Kennedy, defensive tackle. Kennedy played each of his 11 seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, earning eight Pro Bowl appearances and defensive player of the year honors.
  • Charles Haley, outside linebacker. Won five Super Bowl titles for San Francisco and Dallas, leading the 49ers in sacks for each of his first six seasons.
  • Deion Sanders, cornerback. Won a championship with the 49ers following the 1994 season and was one of the best cover corners in NFL history. Also an outstanding returner.
  • Jerome Bettis, running back. Bettis began his career with the Los Angeles Rams before earning most of his Hall credentials with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was the Rams' leading rusher from 1993-95. Ranks fifth in all-time rushing yards with 13,662.
  • Richard Dent, defensive end. Won a championship with the 49ers following the 1994 season. Had 34.5 sacks over a two-year period with Chicago in the mid-1980s.
  • Chris Doleman, defensive end. Doleman led the NFL with 21 sacks in 1989 and was the NFC's defensive player of the year in 1992. He spent the 1996 through 1998 seasons with the 49ers.
  • Les Richter, linebacker. Richter played for the Rams from 1954-62 and went to eight consecutive Pro Bowls. Never missed a game.

I'm looking forward to participating in the discussion, presenting Kennedy's case to the other selectors and voting on the candidates that seem most deserving. Should be a fun day. Results will be announced during an NFL Network show beginning at 7 p.m. ET.

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